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Investors can find a thousand reasons to say no to you, but rest assured: your experience probably isn’t one of them. A 2020 Pitchbook survey found that only 15% of investors value track records, less than half of what they were the previous year.
Even better, the same study showed that where the value of executive branch pedigree decreased, the value of profitability increased by 8%.
Related: What VCs Look for in a Seed Investment
These statistics show that there is a new trend that venture capitalists appreciate, and understanding what VCs are looking for can help minimize the effects of impostor syndrome. that those with non-traditional backgrounds tend to feel.
What is the value of a non-traditional medium?
In a world where everyone seems to have a million dollar idea, finding support and investors who believe in yours, even in the tech world, can be difficult. Another factor that may seem like an obstacle? Coming from a non-traditional background outside of the FAANG realm – i.e. no experience with tech giants Facebook/Meta, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Alphabet’s Google.
In fact, many startup companies start with founders working part-time while holding another full-time job. Some have no staff other than themselves, or the roles and responsibilities of their team members are not clearly defined. They may have an inferior prototype. They may work from a basement or garage rather than a “real” office. And they may not have attracted a large clientele or have funding yet.
Related: No Coding, No Hassle: How Anyone Can Be a Tech Founder
However, non-traditional work experience filled with diverse experiences should be celebrated when entering the startup world. Many executives I know don’t come from a technology background and are more product people who have found a technology partner. The difference in vision and perspective allows for successful collaboration.
For my part, I come from a training in marketing. One of my first jobs after college was at Hershey’s as a chocolate ambassador, piloting the Hershey’s Kissmobile. At the time, I was basically a kid with little life experience, but they handed over the keys (literally) and trusted us to represent their brand nationwide. I got my first taste of entrepreneurship because I basically became a business owner overnight: no boss was there to change my tire on the side of the highway, and no one was there. to mediate if an interpersonal situation arises. I had to think fast and solve problems quickly like entrepreneurs do.
What are venture capitalists looking for?
The key, then, is to understand how to leverage your unique skills when it comes to acquiring venture capital funding as a founder with non-traditional experience. Do you have a non-technical background like mine? When planning your presentations, start with these steps:
1. Embrace your ability to think like a buyer
With a non-traditional experience, you’re likely better able to step away from technology and focus on consumer business challenges. With this lens, you can ask questions from the consumer’s perspective: What are people willing to pay for? What problem does the consumer have that a product could solve?
When the technology is not your experience, it is easier to see the product for its real advantages and disadvantages, as well as how to improve it and how to sell it. When you get too close to your product, it can be hard to disconnect from it, which can often lead to your business failing and losing your funding. Marketing is about building relationships and being credible. With this in mind, you can more deeply understand and persuade your customers and VCs.
Related: Imposter syndrome in the boardroom: How executives deal with self-doubt
2. Speak multiple industry languages
Having a non-traditional background can expose you to a myriad of industries and roles, allowing you to absorb the vernacular of different industrial spaces and effortlessly change form for different situations. When you have this experience, you are better able to see how to generate income based on what you have learned from time spent in other industries.
A 2019 Deloitte study found that almost half of CIO 100 recipients in the UK didn’t even have a technology background before becoming CIOs. One of the winners, Melissa Bell, now leads Danaher’s global IT organization after training in consulting and business transformation. She told Deloitte that her liberal arts background taught her how to prioritize information and communicate her ideas effectively.
3. Flex your skills from past experience
Another benefit of having a non-traditional education is the ability to leverage your experiences working with people from diverse backgrounds and in cross-functional teams. When pitching VCs and persuading others to join the business you’ve founded, you need to use your people skills.
My marketing background gives me a unique advantage when it comes to building a strong sales and customer-focused culture. Leveraging our diverse skill sets is part of being a good executive; it allows tech companies led by CEOs from backgrounds like marketing to approach technology in a refreshing way.
Even if you have deficiencies in a certain area, the most important thing is to recognize it. Play to your strengths and create a strong support team for your weaknesses. If you think you personally lack the technical experience for a particular project, hire someone who does. When I was building products at Discover, I had to make sure my teams were cross-functional. Our products would not have been put on the market otherwise. Everyone has a unique perspective, so leverage your skills learned from past experiences with those of your team to create a healthy fusion of abilities.
So never feel “less than” for entering the tech industry from a non-traditional background. There’s so much value to be had in cross-industry outreach: you can think from a consumer perspective, you have a broader lexicon, and you’re able to connect with people in an authentic way. Harnessing these strengths is how your non-traditional experience can work in your favor.